The Yarmouth Town Council is scheduled to decide Thursday whether dogs must be leashed at all times at Royal River Park.

Dogs currently are allowed to be off leash but under voice control at the park from sunrise to 9 a.m. and between 6 p.m. and when the park closes April 1-Oct. 31, and from sunrise to 9 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and closing Nov. 1-March 31. Dogs must also be leashed at all times along the Royal River between Elm and Bridge streets.

“Under voice control is a real problem because people think their dogs are under their control, but often they really aren’t,” Councilor David Craig said in an interview.

The ordinance to be voted on Thursday requires dogs to be leashed at all times, except for at Picnic Point, the grassy area just north of the main parking lot.

“Picnic Point is physically separate from Royal River Park, so the idea is that if you have your dog off leash there, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Craig said.

The new ordinance would make the leash rules for the park more straightforward and easy to understand, Town Councilor April Humphrey said.

“Based on my experience as a resident and as a dog owner, it is confusing trying to know the different times of year and certain places in town where you can take your dog off leash,” Humphrey said. “That’s part of the impetus behind looking at some of these rules and just trying to make it less confusing.”

The council will also vote whether to allow one individual to handle three or more dogs at a time at the park. There is currently no limit to how many dogs one person can be walking at once. Craig and Humphrey said that provision is in line with rules other communities have for their parks. Cumberland, for example, does not permit an individual to have more than three dogs with them at any town parks.

“Right now, we have some people who come from out of town who are walking many dogs at once. The ordinance would limit them to three, with the idea that someone can’t really control more than three dogs,” Craig said.

The council heard from a couple of community members who are concerned about the changes to the maximum number of dogs allowed at once, Humphrey said, so it’s possible an amendment might be made to increase the number from three dogs.

Other than that, public feedback on the proposed rules has been minimal, Humphrey and Craig said.

Yarmouth Animal Control Officer Bob Silcott and Police Chief Daniel Gallant proposed the changes to the Town Council last month after hearing complaints about dogs running up to people and jumping on them at the park and about waste not being picked up.

In 2019, the animal control officer responded to about 30 incidents at Royal River Park “where he had to give someone a verbal warning in regards to dogs off-leash,” Gallant said.

“This ordinance has not been updated for seven years, so it’s really important that some changes be considered,” he said.

If the new rules are passed Thursday, they will go into effect 30 days later.

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